SHERINGHAM, William (d.1397), of London.
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Family and Education
m. Maud, prob. s.p.1
Alderman of Bishopsgate Ward 12 Mar. 1383-4, Bread Street Ward 1388-d; common councillor, Bread Street Ward Oct. 1384, 1385-6; auditor of London 21 Sept. 1392-3, 1394-5.2
Tax collector, London Nov. 1386, Mar. 1395.3
Warden of the Mercers’ Co. June 1391-4.4
Commr. of inquiry, London Mar. 1393.
Sheriff, London and Mdx. Mich. 1395-6.
Sheringham’s name suggests that he may have come to London from Norfolk, the home of his brother, also named William, who in 1397 was rector of the parish church of Holt, a market town near the coast at Sheringham. He had evidently settled in the capital before January 1371, when he obtained permission to export 50 sacks of wool to either Middleburg or Dordrecht in Holland. Evidence of his involvement in the wool trade is fragmentary, although the survival of other royal licences dated December 1384 for the shipment of 21 sarplers of wool by him to Calais shows that he remained active as an exporter; and he is known to have done business with the Southampton merchant, Nicholas Sherwind*.5 By anuary 1385 Sheringham had risen to become one of the most prominent members of the Mercers’ Company, joining with four of his associates to head a formal protest made to the mayor of London about irregularities in the admission of outsiders to the freedom of the City. Although partly dictated by external events, his three consecutive years in office as warden of the Company are also indicative of his standing in commercial circles. Indeed, by June 1393 he had begun to supply the wardrobe of Henry, earl of Derby (the future Henry IV), with various luxury goods. Sheringham continued to trade as a mercer until the time of his death, when three apprentices were learning their craft under his supervision.6
Unlike the majority of wealthy London merchants, Sheringham does not appear to have invested much of his money in land. In December 1380 he acquired a tenement in the parish of St. Stephen Coleman Street from John Blakethorn, a citizen and dyer of London, who had initially mortgaged the property as security for a debt of £57, but had failed to make the necessary repayments. Sheringham was a party to the purchase of other dwellings in the parish of St. Vedast by Ellen Corneth, the widow of a fellow mercer, in March 1379, being named as her trustee and executor in the following year. In February 1384 he appeared among the feoffees of Sir John Philipot’ for premises in the City, and shortly afterwards he played a similar part in the settlement of extensive estates in Middlesex. Sheringham was also involved in the property transactions of William Parker I* and other prominent Londoners, but so far as is known he nursed few personal ambitions as a rentier.7
By the time of his one return to Parliament in 1391 Sheringham was a well-established member of the civic hierarchy, although his rise to such a position may well have been delayed (if not seriously jeopardized) by an early connexion with the radical mayor of London, John of Northampton†, and his keenest supporter, John More†. In December 1378 Sheringham stood surety for More, a fellow mercer, as collector of the wool subsidy; and in August 1384, when the reaction against Northampton’s party was at its height, he bound himself in £1,000 to guarantee More’s good behaviour. Long after their triumph, the opposition continued to pursue a witch-hunt against the reformers. Three years later an inquest was held at the Guildhall to discover the names of individuals in any way guilty of ‘the evil misprisions’ perpetrated by Northampton and his followers. Among those indicted as ‘maintainers, advisors and helpers’ was one William Sheringham, who, although not described as a mercer, can almost certainly be identified with the subject of this biography. Sheringham’s failure to secure re-election as an alderman after Northampton’s fall from power, and his otherwise unaccountable absence from every meeting of the common council held to press for the former mayor’s trial and execution were both undoubtedly a result of his unpopular political sympathies. Northampton’s greatest enemy, Sir Nicholas Brembre†, was largely responsible for the hastily compiled indictments of September 1387, and had Brembre himself not been appealed of treason soon afterwards it is unlikely that Sheringham and the other accused would have been found innocent. As it was, the proceedings of January 1388 were heard before a court now wholly sympathetic towards Brembre’s victims, and in the following March, after four years out of office, Sheringham was again made an alderman.8 Yet even during the months before his trial he had never been in complete disgrace. In September 1386, for example, he offered securities of £10 for the replacement of funds borrowed to safeguard the defences of London; and in the following March he was chosen by the common council to enforce a new rate of murage. Two months later, while still serving as an auditor of London, he received a similar commission to examine certain accounts offered as evidence in a lawsuit. Again, in November 1387, while his own fate was still undecided, the Crown accepted him as a joint mainpernor in £4,000 on behalf of Thomas Austyn, a mercer then being impeached before the royal council. Clearly, whatever the state of the various factions, Sheringham’s financial expertise continued to be greatly valued by the civic authorities, and in July 1389 he was appointed to audit accounts on behalf of one of the chamberlain’s wards.9
As an alderman, Sheringham was drawn into yet another political crisis, becoming involved in the quarrel between Richard II and London which broke out during the early summer of 1392. He and his fellow dignitaries were summoned to appear before the King at Nottingham on 25 June, and there heard him condemn the ‘notable and evident defaults’ which they had allegedly committed. The normal government of the City was suspended, and a special commission set up to investigate these apparent malpractices. In the following July all the aldermen gave evidence before it at Eton, being fined a corporate sum of 3,000 marks, part of which was to be paid by their immediate predecessors. Most of the current ones, including Sheringham, were none the less confirmed in office (albeit only at royal pleasure), while the mayor and sheriffs, who had been in prison since June, were released on bail. Sheringham had previously joined with two other mercers in offering the massive joint sureties of £3,000 on behalf of John Shadworth*, one of the sheriffs then under guard at Odiham castle. Richard II finally agreed to excuse the fine and restore the liberties of the City in September, although the threat of his future displeasure still remained. When, a few weeks later, Sheringham and 15 other aldermen each bound themselves to pay £11 6s.8d. to the chamberlain of London within one month, they may well have been contributing to a royal loan or gift, intended to regain Richard’s good will.10
Probably because he was not actively involved in the land market, Sheringham managed to avoid much of the protracted and costly litigation which preoccupied so many city merchants. He appears only once to have sued for debt (a modest sum of £13 owed to him in 1391), although in October 1393 he was named along with John More and John Bosham* as one of the plaintiffs in a case involving the seizure of rents in the City. Shortly after their appointment as sheriffs of London in Michaelmas 1395, Sheringham and his colleague, Roger Elys, faced a more serious bill of complaint brought against them in the mayor’s court by a merchant named William Hoo. The latter claimed that they were responsible for the escape of certain prisoners, and successfully recovered from them the £182 which he had lost through their negligence as gaolers, actually having them consigned to prison until the money was paid. The two men could, on the other hand, congratulate themselves on successfully re-imposing the custom of scavage upon Genoese merchants using the port of London.11
Sheringham died between 24 July and 25 Nov. 1397. He was buried next to his wife, Maud, in the parish church of St. Mildred, Bread Street. His will contains no reference to any children or kinsmen other than his brother, William, who was entrusted with the sale of Sheringham’s London property and the distribution of the proceeds for pious uses.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Shiringham, Shyringham.
- 1. Cal. Wills ct. Husting London ed. Sharpe, ii (1), 331.
- 2. Beaven, Aldermen, i. 34, 46; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 88, 124; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 385, 399, 415, 425.
- 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 296, 422.
- 4. Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 11-14.
- 5. Cal. Wills ct. Husting London, ii (1), 331; CFR, viii. 150; E122/71/9 mm. 2-2d.
- 6. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 257; DL28/1/4; Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. f. 19.
- 7. CP25(1) 289/55/174; Corporation of London RO, hr 107-106, 108/49, 109/92, 102, 104, 112/77, 115/102, 124/56, 133, 126/129; CCR, 1385-9, p. 599.
- 8. CFR, ix. 120; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 59, 136-8.
- 9. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 150, 287, 299; CCR, 1385-9, p. 359; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 147.
- 10. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 378, 380, 386, 391; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, pp. 182-3; CPR, 1391-6, pp. 130, 171; CCR, 1392-6, pp. 87-89.
- 11. C241/179/41; Corporation of London RO, hcp 118 m. 1d; Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 429; Cal. P. and M. London, 1381-1412, p. 233.
- 12. Cal. Wills ct. Husting London, ii (1), 331.